June 2015

Blithe but many-layered, the Masi Masianco 2014 is a blend of 75 percent pinot grigio grapes and 25 percent verduzzo delle Venezia, an unusual combination that earns the wine a designation of “delle Venezia I.G.T.,” meaning that it lies outside the usual regulations for the Veneto region. Masi Agricola is well-known for its firm, traditional Valpolicella and Amarone wines, but this excursion into freshness and immediate appeal comes high on the Summer-drinking rankings. Fermented in stainless steel and briefly aged in barriques — small French oak barrels — for suppleness of texture, this delightful quaffer offers a pale straw-gold color and up-front aromas of roasted lemon and lime peel, fennel, caraway and thyme and bare hints of pineapple and grapefruit; the whole effect is of absolute freshness highlighted by a note of green leafiness. Masi Masianco 2014 is quite dry, very crisp and lively and exhibits citrus and stone-fruit elements borne on a tide of chalk and flint minerality and chiming acidity; the finish is elegant, subtle and a bit austere. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 as a charming aperitif or with fresh seafood, chicken salad and other picnic fare. Very Good+. About $15, a Terrific Value.

Imported by Kobrand Corp, Purchase, N.Y. A sample for review.

Perhaps what you desire is a riesling that offers a touch of sweetness to balance the spice and mild heat of an Indian curry or pad thai or some similar dish from Southeast Asia that delivers multiple layers of flavor and temperature. I have a candidate for that office. It’s an inexpensive wine from Germany’s Rheinhessen region, the Georg Albrecht Schneider Niersteiner Paterberg Riesling Kabinett 2012, and it draws on the sweeter extension of the Kabinett purview, Kabinett being, to express the matter simply, the driest category of Germany’s classified wines. I don’t mean that the wine is cloying or dessert-like, only that its intense ripeness slides across the palate with a feeling of juicy, slightly roasted and brandied citrus and stone-fruit flavors steeped in green tea. The color is medium straw-gold; an enveloping softness of peach, pear, lychee and lime peel trembles from the glass, augmented by traces of candied orange rind and pink grapefruit, this subtle and nuanced panoply of delights anchored by a distinct sense of leafy, loamy earthiness; a few moments of swirling, sniffing and sipping bring out touches of quince and ginger and an echo of caramelized fennel. This completely pretty wine plunges across the taste-buds like liquid money, nothing profound but eminently attractive. 10 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $15.

Imported by Winesellers Ltd, Niles, Illinois. A sample for review.

Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers, grandfathers, “greats” and also the single fathers, all you guys who are raising or helping to raise children or who did your job and now bask in the glory of watching your own children raise their off-spring. Typically, in the weeks and months before Father’s Day, I and the other wine writers and bloggers receive tons of PR material about Port, on the assumption that even though June marks the beginning of the hottest time of year, hordes of fathers will be sitting around in their smoking jackets sipping Port in wood-paneled libraries. Ha-ha, well, whatever, so today in honor of fathers everywhere I offer a stunning example of vintage port, one that will, admittedly, require some years of aging to shed its fiery youthful vigor. The Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vintage Porto 2012 is a single-vineyard Port produced by a venerable firm that dates its official founding to 1692. Wine director for Taylor Fladgate is David Guimaraens, who represents the sixth generation of his family in the Port business. Sixty percent of the Quita de Vargellas vineyard consists of vines 75 years old and older. Made very traditionally, this Port encompasses the grape varieties Tinta Amarela, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional, completely foot-trodden; it aged two years in wooden vats before being bottled and released. The color is a deep opaque ruby-purple with a glowing magenta edge; aromas of incredibly ripe, rich and intense blueberries, blackberries and mulberries seem coated with the darkest of bitter chocolate, these elements infused with notes of loganberries, lavender and violets, graphite and iodine, with hints of mint, briers and brambles; the effect is hypnotic, intoxicating, feral and carnal. This is a Port that feels more minerally than spicy and is altogether powerful, intense and concentrated, animated by swingeing acidity and penetrating granite-etched tannins whose dusty velvet-like texture coats the palate. Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vintage Porto 2012 is characterized by amazing presence and weight and displays a piercing sense of confidence, conviction and authority; it’s the nexus where the torrentially sweet and the formidably dry coalesce. Alcohol content of this fortified wine is 20 percent. Drink from, say, 2020 or ’24 through 2036 to ’40 and beyond. Exceptional. About $53.

Imported by Kobrand Corp, Purchase, N.Y. A sample for review.

We don’t drink much merlot in our house because generally merlot wines made in California (and elsewhere in the world except for St. Emilion and Pomerol) tend to be rather uninteresting cadet cabernets. Here, thankfully, is an exception, a 100 percent merlot that displays not only integrity but marked individuality. McIntyre Vineyards lies in Monterey Country’s Santa Lucia Highlands, a growing area occupying terraces in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Range well-known for chardonnay, pinot noir and syrah. The narrow 12-mile-long region looks across the Salinas Valley to Chalone and the awesome rock formation called The Pinnacles. The McIntyre Kimberly Vineyard Merlot 2012 comes not from Santa Lucia Highlands, however, but from Arroyo Seco, an AVA just to the south. The 81-acre Kimberly Vineyard, planted entirely to merlot, occupies a site near the confluence of the Arroyo Seco and Salinas Rivers on an alluvial fan at the foot of the Santa Lucia Mountains, just beyond the influence of the intense Salinas Valley winds, creating a micro-climate much warmer than the surrounding terrain, that is, more suited to merlot than pinot noir. The McIntyre Kimberly Vineyard Merlot 2012 offers an opaque dark ruby hue with a riveting violet-magenta rim that’s almost nuclear; this is a blue-fruit wine — blueberry, blue plum, mulberry — packed with granite and graphite, briers and brambles that allow for notes of lavender, mint and loganberry tart. It is, make no mistake, a powerful, intense and concentrated wine that practically resonates in the glass with energy and dynamism. (The vineyard, by the way, is certified sustainable.) Acidity is profound; the finish is steep and lithic. Still, for all the emphasis on structure, this merlot, deeply committed to its place on earth, delivers myriad pleasures, especially, as we drank the bottle last night, with pork chops marinated in olive oil, soy sauce, lime juice, a mix of black and Szechuan pepper and smoked paprika. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 333 cases. Drink now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $22, representing Great Value.

A sample for review.

For a guy who doesn’t much cotton to chardonnay wines, I have probably been paradoxical in my inclusion of chardonnays in this “Wine of the Day” series, now at its 22nd entry. I won’t bother to extemporize upon the manifold ways in which I think chardonnay wines can be over-done, over-blown, exaggerated and over-oaked; I have done that more than a sufficient numbers of times on this blog. I will say, however, that when I try a chardonnay that seems to touch on all the points of perfection that I will clasp it to my heart as not only an exemplar but a talisman, and I will shout its virtues from the roof-tops. Such a one is the Amapola Creek Jos. Belli Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley. This wine was made by Richard Arrowood, and if ever a winemaker in California deserved the accolade “legendary,” he is certainly at the top of that brief list. Joseph Belli’s certified organic vineyard lies at the extreme western edge of the Russian River AVA in Sonoma County, where the land begins to slope gently upward. Facing east, the terraced and well-drained acreage receives full sunlight in the morning and early afternoon but is shielded by the hills from the harsh light of late afternoon. The color is pale gold with a faint green cast; the entire impression is of a chardonnay that is clean, pure and fresh, balanced yet forward, fervent, almost emphatic in its intensity; classic notes of pineapple and grapefruit are layered with hints of cloves, yellow plums, baked pear and undertones of ginger, quince and damp limestone; a few moments in the glass bring in touches of jasmine and lilac. The wine flows on the palate with sleekness and subtlety, in a texture almost talc-like in its packed nature yet riven by resonant acidity and a brisk chalk-and-flint mineral quality; though quite dry, it offers juicy, spicy and engaging citrus and stone-fruit flavors that lead to a finish finely-sifted with fruit, acid, oak and minerals. The wine went through barrel-fermentation and aged 11 months in a combination of new and used French oak barrels; its presence is apparent as a shaping element, and its tangible influence emerges primarily through the elegance but powerful finish. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 475 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.

Here’s a scintillating pinot blanc that will shiver yer timbers. It’s the Lieb Cellars Reserve Pinot Blanc 2013, from the North Fork of Long Island.
It’s made completely in stainless steel and does not undergo malolactic fermentation, so its freshness, its fervent crispness and blazing acidity are unassailable. The color is very pale straw-gold; aromas of lemon zest, lychee and grapefruit are woven with notes of lemon balm, jasmine, lime peel and chalk. Is this a dry wine? Does the pope wear a funny hat? Yes, this is about as dry as they make ’em, notably limestone-chalk-and-flint dry, with a vibrant line of electrifying acidity and a crystalline structure that feels finely-hewn and faceted; citrus flavors with a bare shading of stone-fruit touch the palate fleetingly, allowing for a deft hint of sunny leafiness among the chiseled and saline mineralities. Bring on the oysters, plump and briny from the shell! 11.9 percent alcohol. Production was 1,305 cases. Winemaker for Lieb Cellars is Russell Hearn; general manager is Ami Opisso. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $22.

A sample for review.

I opened this bottle of Champagne Friday night for LL’s birthday eve. The Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut is 100 percent pinot noir from 10 Grand Cru vineyards. The color is medium salmon-copper with a tinge of topaz, like tarnished silver over rose-gold, enhanced by a swirling upward tempest of tiny silver-flecked bubbles. Imagine a compote of strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb, macerated in orange zest, cloves, dried thyme and heather; couple that concept with notes of lightly toasted brioche, Rainier cherries and pink grapefruit, all founded on deeper layers of chalk and flint. Add the dimensions of a savory, resonant and bracing structure that balances sleekness, delicacy and elegance with an essential lithic and earthy character. Altogether fleet-footed yet dignified, evanescent yet enduring — at least until you finish the bottle. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $99.

Imported by Laurent-Perrier U.S., Sausalito, Calif. A sample for review.

Randall Grahm leaves a few unsanded edges in the Bonny Doon Clos de Gilroy Grenache 2014, Monterey County, so the wine comes traipsing on the palate like a happy-go-lucky country cousin, embodying the concept of rusticity in all its beneficial aspects: open-hearted, generous, robust and a little bumptious, forthright. It’s a blend of 89 percent grenache grapes, 9 percent mourvedre and 2 percent syrah, derived mainly from the Alta Loma Vineyard and with dollops from four other vineyards. The color is medium ruby with a magenta rim; aromas of raspberries and red currants, rhubarb and pomegranate are infused with peppery notes of cloves, briers and loam, while vibrant acidity cuts a swath on the palate and moderately dusty tannins offer a touch of density to the texture. The wine is lively and engaging, earthy without being profound or oratorical. Perfect for pizzas, grilled leg of lamb, or with cold roasted chicken on a picnic. When vinous-minded John Keats called for “a beaker full of the warm South,” he must have had this type of delicious, uncomplicated wine in mind. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $20.

A sample for review. The label image in one vintage behind.

High altitude cabernet sauvignon from Mendoza yesterday; high altitude zinfandel from Howell Mountain today — yes, ma’am and sir, the Wine of the Day requires Seven-League Boots, a vast imagination and flexible taste-buds. The zin in question is the Elyse Winery Zinfandel 2011, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley, a blend of 89 percent zinfandel grapes and 11 percent petite sirah, the zinfandel derived from Howell Mountain’s well-known dry-farmed, sustainably-operated Black Sears Vineyard, which rises to 2400-feet elevation. Ray Coursen is the owner and winemaker of Elyse. The wine aged 10 and a half months in American oak barrels, 25 percent new. The color is dark ruby-purple, and the bouquet, which I thought at first was too earthy, smoothed out admirably into an exemplar of the grape’s classic aspects of blackberry and loganberry with undertones of black currants and plums etched with notes of graphite, lavender and wood smoke, all borne on a foundation of loam, iodine and iron. Many of these characteristics segue faultlessly onto the palate, where the wine’s scintillating purity and intensity resonate with a feeling that combines energy with a brooding nature. Here, this zinfandel turns knotty, briery and brambly, adding to its ripe and spicy black fruit flavors long-drawn out touches of brandied raisins, black pepper, bitter chocolate and dusty tannins. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 864 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’20 with steak, venison, boar and similar hearty and big-hearted fare. Excellent. About $37.

A sample for review.

The Achaval Ferrer estate in the Mendoza region produces a handful of Argentina’s finest red wines, especially focused on malbec, the single-vineyard versions of which retail at $120 to $140. Today, however, we look at the more accessible and far less expensive Achaval Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, a 100 percent varietal wine made from vineyards at 2,297 and 3,608 feet above sea-level. Notice that no new oak is involved; the grapes fermented in cement tanks and the wine aged nine months in two-year-old French oak barrels. Though an “entry-level” wine for this producer, it reveals its pedigree and character in its intensity and concentration, its unassailable tone and presence. The color is dark ruby-magenta; the bouquet seethes with notes of red and black cherries and plums permeated by mineral dust, lavender and bitter chocolate, with undertones of allspice (with the attendant woodsy austerity) and graphite. As often occurs with high-altitude red wines, tannins feel slightly chiseled, and the profound acidity runs deep and faceted. Yes, you could say that the emphasis is on the wine’s structure, but it’s also quite approachable for its dark spicy and alluring black fruit flavors; the dynamic finish is packed with graphite, potpourri and some rooty smoky black tea. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 or ’23. The question as to whether this wine would serve as superb accompaniment to a medium rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill, need not be broached. Excellent. About $25.

Imported by Stoli Wine Group, New York. A sample for review.

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